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Wells And Cowardly Hearts

by Branko MIJIC

Novi List, Rijeka, Croatia, February 11, 2005

If Prime Minister Ivo Sanader failed to react to the celluloid pamphlet and historical forgery "Il cuore nel pozzo" [A heart in the well], seen at the national TV channel RAI by about ten million Italians, at least the Director of the Croatian TV (HTV) Mirko Galic could have. Last night, while in Trieste Berlusconi's right hand Gianfranco Fini and the only European minister who was at one point a member of fascist military organizations, Mirko Tremaglia, with speeches about foibas [mass graves], exodus and exiles prepared the ground for their boss in the coming general election, Galic could have shown on the HVT Bulajic's "Battle on Neretva". So that we can compare whether the blue eyed Italian captain Riva, played by Franco Nero in 1969, is a better character than Partisan Novak, played by Dragan Bjelogrlic, and who ends up worse off.

Regardless of movie wars, it is undeniable that foibas and post-war executions of innocent victims did occur, and no one here denies that, just like the official Rome keeps forgetting that these human tragedies were caused by many years of Italian fascist terror. It is not the Prime Minister's job to be a movie critic, but he must respond with facts to systematically repeated assertions by his counterpart from the other shore of the Adriatic Sea Silvio Berlusconi, that Istria, Rijeka, and Dalmatia are "stolen Italian ethnic space". As academician Petar Strcic noted, the eastern shore of the Adriatic is an everlasting Italian obsession, while the former colonies and interest zones like Ethiopia and Albania have been forgotten. It is not difficult to guess why, as by returning property to Italian émigrés and granting Italian citizenship to those ethnic Italians who chose to stay in this country after WWII, as was again demanded in Trieste, Mussolini's spiritual and political followers would like to achieve their dream of Istria becoming an "Italian pearl".

The production of the movie "A heart in the well" and the fact that it premiered on the national TV on the eve of the new national holiday, the Memorial Day, that gathered some thirty delegations of Italian émigrés from all over Italy and, as guests, a delegation of Sudeten Germans from Munich, clearly show that they are prepared to do a lot and invest a lot of money in that goal! The former president of Slovenia, Milan Kucan, realized that this is not only an overripe and harmless evocation of fascism and proposed to his Italian colleague Ciampi "a gathering of historical reconciliation", as well as a museum that would be located on the border between Italy and Slovenia housing paintings by Venetian baroque masters removed by Italian fascist authorities from museums in Istria in 1941. Consequently, the Croatian political scene also should not react with such deafening silence regarding manipulations with foibas, nor should the reactions to these manipulations boil down to a few surviving WWII Partisans or representatives of the local authorities. Following Kucan's example, we should, in the name of the Croatian state, a heir of anti-fascist legacy, show our teeth and say that before the well here black shirts committed all sorts of crimes and we shall not allow that that happen again.

Otherwise, one day, someone may make a movie about this age and name it "A cowardly heart".

Horrible truth about ravines with roots in 1918, has a historical context that must not be ignored

"Foibas" Invented By Fascists

The expanding Italian state in the early twentieth century did not care about minorities and their rights. Instead it attempted to either totally assimilate or to expel them. Threats with foibas were for the first time heard in precisely such a context

by Predrag MATEJEVIC

Novi List, Rijeka, Croatia, February 12, 2005

I am writing these lines on the Memorial Day, February 10, 2005 - I share sorrow with many citizens of this country [Italy]. I condemned a long time ago the crimes of ravines and those who committed them, everything that preceded and followed them - while I still lived in Yugoslavia, and while very little was said about this topic in Italy. I also wrote about crimes on the island of Goli Otok, where many communists, Yugoslav and Italian, who preferred Stalin and Togliati to Tito's "revisionism", perished. I also spoke out about the suffering of ethnic Italians expelled from Istria and Dalmatia after WWII. I did that in Yugoslavia, where it probably required more courage than in Italy. I am not sure how many Italian writers, both those who were forced to leave and those who stayed behind, I presented at the time: Marisa Madieri, Anna-Maria Mori, Nalida Milani, Diego Zandelo, Claudio Ugussi, Giacomo Scotti, etc. I do not recall how many articles I published in the Italian minority press, little known in Italy, in order to give them support, hoping that they would be less alone and exposed. They also supported me when I decided to leave.

Ravines, or foibas as Italians refer to them, are a grave crime, and those who committed it deserve unequivocal condemnation. But, we must also say that that crime was preceded by others, also grave crimes. If we ignore that fact, we face danger that "crime and punishment" be manipulated and exploited for other means. Of course, no crime can be justified or mitigated by another crime. The horrible truth about foibas, about which Croatian poet Ivan Goran Kovacic wrote one of the most moving poems of the European anti-fascist resistance, has its historical context, which must not be ignored if we really want to talk about the truth and if we wish that the truth confirm and ennoble our sorrow. We must not forget that forgery and omission humiliate and insult.

Fascist Minister's Threatening Song

The ignominious story had started much earlier, not far from the spot where the latter crimes took place. I will, therefore refer to the documents at our disposal: on September 20, 1920 Mussolini gave a speech in Pula [Pola in Italian] (the choice of the city was not accidental). He stated the following: "For the fulfillment of our Mediterranean dream, it is necessary that the Adriatic (he is talking about both shores, author's remark), which is the Italian bay, be under our control; at the expense of lower races, such as Slavs". Thus, racism took the stage, followed by "ethnic cleansing" and "population transfer". Statistics at our disposal mention approximately 80,000 expelled Croats and Slovenes in the 1920s and 1930s. I failed to establish how many poor Italians were brought from Calabria and elsewhere to replace them. Slavs lost their right, which they had in Austria, to use their language in school and press, the right to use their language for religious services, and even to mark grave stones in their language. Towns and villages were renamed. Personal names were also [forcibly] changed. The expanding Italian state in the early twentieth century did not care about minorities and their rights. Instead it attempted to either totally assimilate or to expel them. Threats with foibas were for the first time heard in precisely such context. Giuseppe Caboldi Gigli, fascist minister for public works, who renamed himself "Giulio Italico", wrote the following in 1927: "The Istrian muse named as foibas those places suitable for burial of enemies of national (i.e. Italian) characteristics of Istria" ("Gerarshia", IX, 1927). The diligent minister also added stanzas of a threatening poem, written in dialect: "A Pole xe arena, Foiba xe a Pizin") ("In Pula there is coliseum, in Pazin foibas"). I owe this information to Giacomo Scotti, an Italian writer from Rijeka.

Jasenovac - Mini Auschwitz

Therefore, "foibas" are a fascist invention. Theory soon led to practice. On November 5, 2001, "Il Piccolo", a daily published in Trieste, quoted Raffaello Camerini, a Jew, who was condemned to forced work in Istria on the eve of the capitulation of Italy in 1943. His worst task was to pick up murdered anti-fascists, throw them in foibas and pour quick lime over their corpses. History has a few more things to say about that. Without doubt, Ustashe duce [leader] Ante Pavelic was one of the worst criminals in the Balkans. Concentration camp Jasenovac was a mini-Auschwitz, with the main difference that Jasenovac mostly relied on "manual work", while Nazis preferred "industrial methods". Ravines were, naturally, part of such a "strategy". I wonder whether a single pupil in Italy had a chance to read that the same Pavelic with his worst murderers for years enjoyed Mussolini's hospitality in Lipari Islands, where they received assistance and training by already trained fascist black shirts. Those who today talk about school programs in Italy and the need to include foibas in them should not fail to include that information as well. Let me mention something else: Mussolini's authorities annexed a large part of Slovenia, together with Ljubljana, Dalmatia, Montenegro, a part of Bosnia-Hercegovina, and all of Boka Kotorska. Then, again, from 1941 and 1943, about 30,000 Slavs, ethnic Croats and Slovenes, were expelled from Istria and occupied territories. Fascist black shirts carried out mass and individual executions. A whole generation was destroyed. According to Yugoslav sources, Italian occupying authorities were responsible for about 200,000 deaths, mostly on the Adriatic shore and on the islands. The figure seems exaggerated to me, but even it the true figure corresponds to 250f these 200,000 deaths, it is already a staggering number. In Dalmatia, Italian occupiers caught and shot Rade Koncar, one of the leaders of the anti-fascist resistance, one of the closest Tito's collaborators. Occasionally, they assisted the Serb Chetnik vojvoda in Dalmatia, pop Djujic, who burned down Croat villages and slaughtered their inhabitants exacting revenge for Ustashe slaughter of Serbs. Thereby Italians threw fuel on the fires of a raging civil war. Let me also mention a whole chain of Italian concentration camps, smaller and larger, from the islet of Mamula in the far south, over the islands of Lopud near Dubrovnik, all the way to the islands of Pag and Rab in the north. They were frequently way stations on the road to the deadly La Risiera de St. Sabba [the only Nazi concentration camp in Italy during WWII] in Trieste, and in some cases to Auschwitz or Dachau. Partisans were not protected by the Geneva Conventions (nowhere in the world) so that prisoners were immediately shot to death like dogs. Many of them greeted the end of the war with grave wounds, both physical and psychological. People like that were capable of committing crimes like foibas.

Draconian Revenge

No archive, military or civilian, contains documentation about an order coming from the partisan Chiefs of Staff or Tito personally. Units with many soldiers who had lost whole families, siblings, comrades, committed "unauthorized" crimes. Unfortunately, fascism left behind so much evil that revenge was draconian, and not only in the Balkans. Let us just recall Friuli, in northern Italy, where there were no inter-ethnic clashes. Documents mention about ten thousand persons executed without trial at the end of the war. In France, there were more than 50,000 executions. Perhaps even more in Greece.

In Istria so far 570 corpses have been pulled out from foibas (historian from Trieste mentions an even smaller number, specifying that the corpses of some soldiers killed in nearby battles were also thrown in foibas, not all of them Italians). Today, we can hear propagandists who in various Italian media mention "tens of thousands of ‘enravined' (infoibati) Italians". According to Italian historian Diego de Castro, in the whole region about 6,000 Italians were killed. That number should not be exaggerated as if on an auction, as some Italian media are doing right now, puling out of nowhere claims about 30,000 or 50,000 murdered persons. We should respect the dead, by refusing to throw other skeletons over their skeletons, the way executioners (infoibatori) did.

On the other hand, having in mind the place that all the aforementioned data hold in our imagination, the propaganda spread by the movie "A Heart in the well" (Il cuore nel pozzo) does not seem welcome to me. The movie was recently shown on TV and seen by about 10 million Italians, after an unprecedented aggressive promotional campaign. Not a single historical source mentions the episode from the film in which partisans separate mothers from their children and then throw them in the ravines! That episode is a baseless forgery of the screen writers. The Italian movie has a venerable tradition of neorealism, one of the most significant in the modern cinematography in general and does not need models similar to "socrealism" of the Soviet movies made in the 1960s. Also, it would have been good if the recently staged commemorations and popular TV shows had at least one minister with different attitude towards fascism in his past, unlike the ones we had a chance to see. That would have contributed to the credibility of their testimonies.

"Visceral Anti-Communism"

Yugoslavia is no more. Croat, Serb, Slovene and other extreme nationalists are happy when the Italian right offers them new arguments to incriminate the country they had destroyed. (The abovementioned movie was filmed in Montenegro, in Boka Kotorska, with the Slovene partisan played by a Serb actor...) This is yet another way to inflict new wounds to people whose scars still haven't fully healed. Is that the best way - especially if so much of the truth is hidden? Is there no better way? Is there a way to make our shared sorrow more noble and dignified, to make our history less partisan and mutilated? Isn't it true that until literally yesterday the border next to Trieste was the most open border between the East and the West during the cold war, which brought great prosperity to the inhabitants of the city of St. Giusto the Just? Isn't it true that ethnic Croats and Italians in Istria managed to come together and jointly resisted Tudman's nationalism, more than anywhere else in Croatia? Finally, who is going to benefit from the manipulation we are witnessing these days?

We are not naïve. The purpose of the whole show is to support Berlusconi in his fight against the opposition, with the left and their links with Communism, which, according to Berlusconi, always led only to "poverty, death and terror", even when it contributed as sacrifice 18 million Russians in the struggle for the liberation of Europe from fascism. This premeditated campaign started about 5-6 years ago when the publication of the "Black Book of Communism", which the Prime Minister publicly distributed to his followers. It is being run, publicly and behind the scenes, skillfully and systematically. Its true goal isn't really to accuse or humiliate Slavs, but to harm his own political opponents and reduce their electoral chances. But Slavs, in this case above all Croats and Slovenes, still have to pay.

There is a sort of "visceral anti-communism" that, according to a friend of mine, Adam Michnik, Polish dissident and a genius, is worse than the worst communism. Yours truly knows a thing or two about that: he lost almost all of his relatives on the father's side in Stalin's Gulag. But, that does not make him despise fascists any less.

Translated on February 8, 2006
Novi List